Contemplative Spiritual Disciplines: Writing a Rule of Life, Part Two

Rule of St. Benedict, 810 AD, oldest existing copy of St. Benedict’s Rule, housed at St. Gallen, Switzerland, at the Stiftsbibliotek Library, one of the largest and finest library of medieval texts in Europe.
Photo by Thomas Robinson.

As I wrote in a blog post on May 11, 2020, one of the classic contemplative spiritual disciplines from ancient times is writing a “Rule of Life” or spiritual guidelines for daily living. The early church followed a “Rule of Life” as seen in Acts 2:42-47. In Part One of “Writing a Rule of Life,” I shared my own personal “rule of life,” as an example of this ancient discipline.

This is now Part Two of “Writing a Rule of Life.” In this blog post, I will explore how you can write a Rule of Life, giving practical “how-to” guidelines and resources for practicing this ancient contemplative spiritual discipline.

I like to think of a “rule of life” as a trellis system to support fruitful growth in the vineyard of your soul. In 2015, I spent a year (about once a month) working and walking in vineyards to better understand Jesus’ teaching from John 15 on the vineyard:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Behind this beautiful spiritual picture of life with Jesus is a vineyard trellis system to support the bearing of “much fruit” Jesus has planned for your life and mine. Consider your own personal “rule of life” such a trellis system.

I am indebted to several authors who have helped be better understand the ancient wisdom of writing a rule of life. First, I am thankful for my ancient mentor, Benedict (480-550) who wrote a “regula,” a “rule of life” for shared life together in Christ within a monastery. His rule of life is still being practiced daily among monastics worldwide today.

Second, I am grateful for the six years I spent in Tennessee, 19887-1993, where I got to know Marjorie Thompson, author of Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, in which she devotes the final chapter to “Putting it All Together: Developing a Rule of Life.”

“What is a Rule of Life?” asks Marjorie Thompson. “A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. When we speak of patterns in our life, we mean attitudes, behaviors, or elements that are routine, repeated, regular. Indeed, the Latin term for “rule” is regula, from which our words regular and regulate derive. A rule of life is not meant to be restrictive, although it certainly asks for genuine commitment. It is meant to help us establish a rhythm of daily living, a basic order within which new freedoms can grow. A rule of life, like a trellis, curbs our tendency to wander and supports our frail efforts to grow spiritually.” (Soul Feast, WJKP, 138)

Third, I’ve turned again and again to Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s wise book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us (IVP, 2005), including her chapter on writing a rule of life. Calhoun offers this guidance for preparing to write a rule of life:

“Before making a rule, take stock of your desires, natural rhythms, limits and times of closest connection to God. The following questions can provide you with insights about what is most important to you in a rule. (If the word rule makes you anxious, write a “rhythm for life.”)

Questions to Ask Before Writing a Rule (from Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)

  1. When and where do you feel closest to God? How do you enter most deeply into an awareness of God’s love for you?
  2. What is most important to you? What received most attention in your life? What gives you most security and self-worth? Who do you want to become?
  3. What are your current goals and longings? What is most hindering or helping your spiritual journey?
  4. What practices suit your daily, monthly and yearly rhythms and cycles? What responsibilities and rhythms change with various seasons?
  5. Where do you want to change? Where do you feel powerless to change?
  6. What spiritual disciplines currently arise in your heart and spark your desire for God’s transforming work in your life? (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 37)

Calhoun also wisely writes, “Don’t be afraid to experiment with a rule of life; it can easily be changed and revised, but should not be subject to whims. Allow yourself to settle into the rule of life so it has time to shape your life. Ultimately a rule of life will help you love God more.” (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 36)

Calhoun offers a lovely acronym, W.O.R.S.H.I.P. for a possible outline for writing a Rule of Life:


Finally, I want to encourage you to study Stephen Macchia’s wonderful book, Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way (IVP, 2012). He has a helpful website resources for writing a rule of life. See

Macchia offers two parts in this book for writing a Rule of Life: forming and framing.

FRAMING: First, he encourages us to “frame our personal rule of life” by better understanding basic elements in our life currently, including:

  • Roles: What are your primarily relationships?
  • Gifts: What are your God-given gifts, talents, and temperment?
  • Desires: What are your deepest longings and core values?
  • Vision: What is the intentional passion God has planted in you?
  • Mission: What are you currently doing to pursue God’s vision for your life?

Here’s the link to a PDF of this helpful outline for framing your personal rule of life:

FORMING: Second, Macchia offers a helpful outline for forming your personal rule of life:

  • Time: What are your spiritual priorities?
  • Trust: Who are you relationally committed to and who do you most trust?
  • Temple: What are your physical, or bodily priorities?
  • Treasure: What are your financial and material priorities and how does God influence them?
  • Talent: What are your missional priorities.

Here is the link to a PDF of this helpful outline (5 “Ts”) for forming your personal rule of life: